Unfounded reports of ICE agents in Pilsen stoke fear after massive raids in Mississippi

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Friday, August 9, 2019
Unfounded reports of ICE agents in Pilsen stoke fear
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Despite the apparent sighting of ICE agents at Pilsen businesses Thursday, officials determined there were no arrests or raids in the Chicago neighborhood.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Reports of federal immigration agents in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood stoked fear among community members who were already on edge a day after nearly 700 people were arrested in workplace raids across Mississippi.

The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center received reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were seen at Pilsen businesses Thursday. The reports prompted 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez to gather video evidence and talk to business owners, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot shared "know your rights" information on social media.

Despite the apparent sighting, there were no raids or arrests.

Lightfoot said no one was detained and that the agents seemed to be out to lunch.

"I have to question why, knowing the environment that we've been suffering under, particularly in a neighborhood like Pilsen, that they think it's appropriate to be wearing their ICE uniforms," Lightfoot said.

25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez said that so far, there's no evidence from Pilsen restaurants to back up the claims. Either way, he said that it shows how uneasy the community feels.

"As a city, we don't collaborate with ICE," Sigcho-Lopez said. "Just having agents just walking around or whatever the activity was, certainly given the climate, creates a lot of fear."

The fear is also bad for business.

Rigoberto Gonzalez owns a sewing machine shop and he's also executive director of the Pilsen Chamber of Commerce. Gonzalez said concern about ICE raids means that shoppers are staying home.

"All the immigrants, when they are afraid about ICE, they stop spending money and we see that right away," Gonzalez said.

Irakere Picon, of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, said workplace raids have increased by "400%" in the past 3 years.

"It's really important we as a country, and also as a business community, stand up to make sure we find a solution so that we are not disrupting the economy," Picon said.

Picon said businesses must use the opportunity to push immigration reform.

RELATED: ICE raids in Mississippi prompt Chicago-area groups to take action

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump defended the Mississippi raids on Friday. He said the raids served as a good deterrent for immigrants planning to come to the U.S. illegally.

Some of those arrested at chicken processing plants across Mississippi have since been released. But initially, children were separated from their parents, including 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio.

"My dad didn't do nothing, he is not a criminal," Magdalena said about her father being arrested by ICE agents.

Up to seven poultry plants owned by several different companies were targeted. Park Ridge-based Koch Foods was one of them.

ABC7 Chicago reached out to Koch Foods. The company did not have a comment.

A group of protesters against Trump's immigration policies partially shut down Lake Shore Drive for a brief period of time during rush hour Thursday afternoon.

Their signs said that they stand with immigrants and the victims of the El Paso mass shooting. They continued their demonstration along Lake Shore Drive after clearing out of the roadway.